Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - April 27, 1998


Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko is to hold final consultations with State Duma deputies on 27 April to discuss the formation of the new cabinet. In an interview with Russian Television (RTR) on 26 April, Kirienko said he will submit his recommendations to President Boris Yeltsin on 28 April and the first cabinet appointments will be announced soon after. Yeltsin has the final say over ministerial appointments. Kirienko told RTR that he hopes to establish "constructive cooperation" with the Duma and to avoid "witch hunts" or "retaliation" in relations between the legislative and executive branches. He also confirmed that he will recommend some Duma deputies for cabinet posts, adding that those with the right professional qualifications will be nominated "regardless of which political parties or [Duma] factions they belong to, and regardless of how those factions voted" on his candidacy for prime minister (see also "End Note"). LB


Most leading Russian politicians breathed a sigh of relief after the Duma confirmed Kirienko on 24 April. In a televised address, Yeltsin described the vote as a "victory of reason over emotion," and "an understanding that we should keep the political balance and let the government work normally." Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev also praised the Duma deputies for allowing all state institutions to continue to function. (If the Duma had rejected Kirienko a third time, Yeltsin would have been obliged to dissolve the Duma and call new parliamentary elections within four months.) In contrast, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said his faction's deputies voted three times "against bribes, pressure, and the decision" to nominate Kirienko, ITAR-TASS reported. Yavlinskii added that Kirienko's program is a "dead end" and argued that "the government is just an appendage of the presidential administration." LB


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has told Interfax and NTV that his party will consider expelling members who voted for Kirienko on 24 April. The party's Central Committee instructed Communist Duma deputies to oppose Kirienko and to boycott the vote if it were held by secret ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 1998). Zyuganov, who advocated an open vote on Kirienko's candidacy, also described the final ballot on the acting prime minister as "dishonest." It is impossible to know exactly how many Communist Duma deputies broke ranks. Interfax quoted sources close to Zyuganov as saying that there were 12 defectors. But on 26 April, NTV estimated that approximately 40 Communist deputies voted for Kirienko. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin have admitted that they were among the members of the Communist faction who voted to confirm Kirienko. LB


Speaking to Interfax on 25 April, Zyuganov sharply criticized the leaders of other major Duma factions. He said the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's support for Kirienko demonstrated that party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is a "direct puppet of the Russian president." He also predicted that the Our Home Is Russia movement will "disintegrate" and do poorly in the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Both the LDPR and Our Home Is Russia Duma factions voted unanimously for Kirienko. Zyuganov also had harsh words for Yabloko leader Yavlinskii, whom he called a "false opposition member and opportunist." Yavlinskii has frequently said the same about Zyuganov, noting that only Yabloko has voted unanimously against many important government policies, such as the 1998 budget. LB


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says the Moscow city government will support Kirienko as long as the new prime minister supports domestic industry and does not follow the "radical-liberal" economic policies advocated by Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar, Interfax reported on 25 April. Luzhkov strongly supported Kirienko's nomination after he and Kirienko signed an agreement on the transfer of a controlling stake in a major car manufacturer to the Moscow city government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1998). The Moscow mayor has long been a vocal critic of Gaidar and former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, saying their "monetarist" policies were destroying Russian industry. LB


Preliminary results show that former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed gained 45 percent of the vote in the first round of the Krasnoyarsk Krai gubernatorial election on 26 April, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Incumbent Governor Valerii Zubov gained 35 percent and will face Lebed in a runoff election tentatively scheduled for 17 May. Duma deputy Petr Romanov, the Communist Party's candidate, came in third with 13 percent. Turnout was high at more than 61 percent. Lebed posted his strongest showing in rural areas and small cities, while Zubov outpolled Lebed in the capital city of Krasnoyarsk. An intense campaign against Lebed in the media controlled by krai authorities appears to have backfired. In addition, Lebed has received substantial financial support, especially from the businessman Boris Berezovskii. Zubov is now expected to court Romanov, but the support of the Communist candidate may not be enough to swing the race in his favor. LB


Sergei Katanandov, the former mayor of Petrozavodsk, and incumbent Viktor Stepanov will compete in a runoff election for the post of prime minister of the Republic of Karelia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 27 April. Karelia does not have a presidency, and the prime minister is the republic's top elected official. In the first round on 26 April, Katanandov gained 36 percent of the vote, compared with 34 percent for Stepanov. Katanandov was expected to post a stronger showing, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Karelia. He had the support of the republican branch of Our Home Is Russia and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. The Karelian branch of the Communist Party and directors of large enterprises are backing Stepanov, ITAR-TASS reported. Yabloko candidate Aleksandr Chazhengin finished third with 8.5 percent and may be a kingmaker in the second round. LB


Following an article in the 27 April "New York Times," concerns have again been raised that Russia is exporting military technology. According to that article, which cited unnamed senior U.S. officials, India is developing a sea-launched missile based on technology acquired from Russia. The new "Sagarika" missile, which would likely be launched from a submarine, would have a range of 320 kilometers, sufficient to hit targets well inside Pakistan and capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. India already has one Russian-built Kilo-class submarine and is expected to receive another within a few months. ITAR-TASS reported on 30 March that India is considering buying more such submarines. India, meanwhile, insists that it is developing its missile system without outside help. BP


The Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement--informally known as the "party of power" when its leader, Viktor Chernomyrdin, was prime minister--held its fifth congress in Moscow on 25 April, Russian news agencies reported. In his address to the congress, Chernomyrdin congratulated his successor as prime minister and said the NDR will not be in opposition to the president or government. However, Chernomyrdin added that his movement will not "be silent when the authorities make mistakes." He advised Kirienko to form a "professional" team. (Within hours of Kirienko's confirmation on 24 April, NDR Duma faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin predicted that at least two NDR members will become government ministers.) Chernomyrdin also called on NDR members to pay special attention to issues such as wage and pension delays, job creation, and social protection for children and pensioners, Interfax reported. LB


The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) re-elected Zhirinovsky as party leader at its eighth congress on 25 April (which was also Zhirinovsky's birthday), Russian news agencies reported. In a message to the congress, Yeltsin said the LDPR has "played a significant part in establishing political pluralism" in Russia. The president also said Zhirinovsky's party has "provided political support for implementation of decisions that were crucial for the country" and "devotes much attention to foreign policy issues and protection of the civil rights of our compatriots abroad." Zhirinovsky's behavior has often sparked scandals both on the Duma floor and outside the chamber (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February and 13 March 1998). However, the LDPR usually votes with the government on important issues such as the budget. Most recently, the LDPR unanimously supported Kirienko's nomination for prime minister on 24 April. LB


Rosvooruzhenie's press service issued a statement on 24 April denying allegations that the company has lost $10 billion since the sacking of former director Aleksandr Kotelkin in late August 1997, Interfax reported. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Chairman Vladimir Zhirinovsky made those allegations while addressing the Duma earlier that day. Kotelkin's successor, Yevgenii Ananev, announced last week that Rosvooruzhenie exported arms worth $2.5 billion in 1997 and plans to sell arms worth $3.5 billion to 58 countries in 1998. LF


Law enforcement authorities on 24 April arrested a third suspect in the October 1994 murder of "Moskovskii komsomolets" journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 April. The Prosecutor-General's Office has not released the new suspect's name, but Vladimir Kazakov, who heads the department in the Prosecutor- General's Office on investigating high-profile cases, told ITAR-TASS on 27 April that the latest person to be arrested is a civilian. Two former officers who served in the Airborne Troops were arrested in the Kholodov case in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 23 February 1998). Kholodov was investigating alleged military corruption when he was killed by a booby-trapped briefcase. LB


Konstantin Tublin, one of the owners of the St. Petersburg Limbus Publishing House, announced on 24 April that he has abandoned plans to publish a Russian translation of Salman Rushdie's controversial novel "Satanic Verses," Interfax reported. Several Russian Muslim leaders had warned the previous day that the proposed publication was "an insult" to Russia's Muslims and could provoke a violent retaliation against the publisher (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April, 1998). Tublin argued that it is "abnormal" for writer, translator, or publisher to be sentenced to death over a book. He called on Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to help achieve "a civilized settlement" to the controversy. LF


A 26 April congress of the Chechen and Dagestani peoples in Djohar-gala (formerly Grozny) selected Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev as its chairman, ITAR-TASS reported. Sponsored by Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov's Islamic Nation movement, which advocates the annexation by Chechnya of several raions of Dagestan, the congress called for strengthening "the unity of the peoples" of the North Caucasus. Addressing delegates, Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov said that the congress's main aim is "to consolidate Islam in Chechnya and to spread it throughout the Caucasus." LF/PG


Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze announced on 27 April that he will call a special session of the Georgian Security Council and will accept the resignation of Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi reported. Observers believe Shevardnadze initiated the defense minister's removal. In a radio interview broadcast on 27 April, Shevardnadze cited many "mistakes" made recently by Nadibaidze, noting by way of example that two military planes were not able to accompany him to a 26 April meeting in Trabzon with his Azerbaijani and Turkish counterparts (see below). He also charged that a Defense Ministry tank unit failed to close off the main roads to Tbilisi on 9 February, allowing terrorists who nearly assassinated Shevardnadze to escape. According to RFE/RL's correspondent, Nadibaidze was considered among the most pro-Russian officials in Shevardnadze's circle. His removal comes before the summit of CIS presidents scheduled for 29 April in Moscow. LB


The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying the 28 April mass protest planned by the youth wing of the Union of Citizens of Georgia on the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia is "a new big provocation," ITAR-TASS reported on 25 April. The protesters are to demand the redeployment throughout Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion of the CIS peacekeeping force currently stationed along the border. They argue that this measure is needed to expedite the repatriation of Georgians forced to flee the district during the 1992-1993 war. The Russian statement claimed that the Georgian government ignored earlier requests to put an end to "inadmissible" acts of violence against the peacekeepers. Also on 25 April, one person was killed and three injured in an exchange of fire between Abkhaz and Georgians in Gali, according to ITAR-TASS. And in a related development, the Georgian Foreign Ministry on 27 April said Tbilisi will not raise the issue of the withdrawal of peacekeepers at the upcoming CIS summit. LF/PG


Shevardnadze on 25 April denied that up to 1.5 million people have left Georgia in recent years in search of employment, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the number does not exceed 300,000-350,000. Caucasus Press on 24 April cited the figure of 1.5 million, which, it said, was based on data released at a government session earlier that day. LF


Heidar Aliev, Shevardnadze, and Suleyman Demirel met in the Black Sea town of Trabzon on 26 April to discuss trilateral cooperation and construction of the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil. They planned to focus on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process as well, AFP reported, citing "Azadlyg." The three presidents also attended a ceremony to mark the beginning of construction of the Deriner hydro-electric project on the Chorokhi River south of the Turkish-Georgian frontier. Georgian ecologists have protested the proposed construction of the 200-meter high dam, claiming it will result in the mass erosion of Georgia's Black Sea beaches and the flooding of coastal areas (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 7, 14 April 1998). LF


Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Safari has affirmed that his country still opposes the Russian-Kazakh proposal to divide the bed of the Caspian Sea into national sectors, Interfax reported on 24 April. Safari said Tehran believes that each littoral state should have jurisdiction over a 10-mile zone and that the rest of the sea, including the sea bed, water, and surface, should remain common property. He argued that all questions related to the legal status of the sea should be resolved by consensus between all five littoral states. LF


President Robert Kocharian and members of the Armenian government on 24 April laid wreaths at a Yerevan memorial to the victims of the 1915 genocide. Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Kocharian confirmed his government's stated intention that in relations with Ankara, it will raise the issue of recognizing the genocide. He denied that the move will harm Armenian-Turkish relations. Kocharian also advocated that an article pledging to achieve recognition of the genocide be included in the Armenian Constitution, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a 23 April address to mark the anniversary, Kocharian argued that the absence of either recognition of or expressed regret for the genocide contributed to the mass killings of Armenians in Sumgait in 1988 and Baku in 1990. He said that recognition of the 1915 genocide will "advance world peace," Noyan Tapan reported. LF


Over a 48- hour period last week, heavy rains resulted in four times the average monthly precipitation in large areas of Tajikistan, cutting off communications to many parts of the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Both heavy rains and a small earthquake on 24 April are being blamed for landslides that have killed at least 15 people. In central Tajikistan's Garm region, a landslide hit the village of Navdi, leaving 12 dead and injuring 15. Damage to crops is likely to be severe. Health officials, meanwhile, are concerned that floods will wash bacteria into the country's water system, resulting in the spread of typhus and cholera. BP


Kyrgyz police have taken a Security Service officer into custody after finding more than 3.5 kilograms of narcotics in his car, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 April. The officer was attempting to return to Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan's Osh region when a routine inspection at a customs post revealed a briefcase on the back seat filled with heroin and opium. BP


On the 12th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma accused the international community of failing to meet promises of aid to close down the plant, AFP reported on 26 April. Kuchma reproached the G-7 for delaying the payment of $3.1 billion through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The West objects to that payment because Ukraine wants to use international funds to complete the construction of two new nuclear reactors in order to compensate for the loss of power from the Chornobyl plant. Ukraine has recently asked Russian banks for credits to achieve this goal. "We have reached agreement with Russia on completing the projects, otherwise we would have to wait another 10 years for the EBRD to fulfill its pledges," AFP quoted Kuchma as saying. JM


Some 7,000 people marched in downtown Minsk on 25 April to mark the 12th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster. The marchers, led by opposition politicians, shouted slogans against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime and demanded freedom for imprisoned opposition activists. They also demanded that Lukashenka be dismissed for "malicious disregard of the deadly danger of the Chornobyl catastrophe, economic collapse, and deliberate devastation of the national culture," Belapan reported. The police detained some 30 protesters, including 17 members of the Russian Anti- Fascist Youth Movement who came from Moscow to take part in the rally, ITAR-TASS reported. The next day. the police released all the Russian detainees and deported them on a night train to Moscow. JM


Yas Abadouski, an 18-year-old member of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), has asked for political asylum in Poland, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and "Svaboda" reported. Abadouski had gone to Poland with his father to apply for college there; he was expelled earlier this year from a technical university in Mahilyou for political activism. Over the past two months, he has been repeatedly arrested and tried. Most recently, he was sentenced to 15 days in prison for participating in the 2 April rally protesting the Russia-Belarus union. JM


Vadzim Kanapadski, a 22-year-old BNF member, was arrested on 23 April and sentenced to 10 days in prison for disturbance of the peace during a demonstration that took place last month, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The court had heard testimony from two police officers and had not allowed any witnesses for the defense. JM


The Presidium of the Baltic Assembly, which is composed of representatives of the three Baltic parliaments, issued a declaration on 24 April condemning Russia's "open political and economic pressure on Latvia" and supporting Riga's attempts to normalize the situation, BNS and ETA reported. The Presidium also expressed "special concern over the campaign by some Russian regional leaders against Latvia, which can jeopardize normal relations between the citizens of the two neighboring countries for a long time." The previous day, Hans van den Broek, the EU commissioner for external relations, met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev in Brussels and advised Russia not to use trade and economic sanctions against Latvia. Van den Broek reportedly told Avdeev that such measures would not contribute to the integration of ethnic Russians into Latvian society. JC


Ahead of the confidence vote in Guntars Krasts's cabinet later this week, the Fatherland and Freedom faction in the parliament voted on 25 April to back the premier, "Diena" reported. The party, of which Krasts is a member, also voted to back the government's stance on amendments to the citizenship law. At the same time, it linked any easing of citizenship requirements for children born to non-Latvians since independence to those children being given the opportunity to learn Latvian. JC


Arturas Paulauskas, whom Valdas Adamkus narrowly beat in the recent presidential elections, has formed the New Union party, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 April. Paulauskas, who is also chairman of the party, said the new formation's goal is to "build up a strong opposition to the present regime, because only a strong opposition can help 'the powers that be' to avoid mistakes." The program of the New Union is based on the left-centrist platform that Paulauskas espoused in the presidential race, according to the Russian news agency. JC


The Confederation for an Independent Poland- Patriotic Camp, one of the parties that belongs to Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), has demanded that the government carry out the Solidarity election program, "Zycie Warszawy" reported on 27 April. The party believes that the government is currently implementing policies of the Freedom Union, the AWS's main partner in the ruling coalition. The confederation is threatening to withdraw from the AWS unless its demand is met. JM


Doctors at the Innsbruck University Clinic performed a tracheotomy on Czech President Vaclav Havel on 24 April, several hours after he was taken off a respirator. They later said they are "satisfied" with the state of his health and that the tracheotomy was a "routine operation" performed in order to assist breathing. The tracheotomy tube inserted in Havel's throat will be replaced in a few days with another tube that will allow him to speak. MS


Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova and Klaus Schacht, head of the German Central Bureau for Prosecution of Nazi Crimes, discussed in Prague on 24 April the possibility of bringing to justice a former Nazi SS officer suspected of murdering inmates in the Terezin concentration camp, CTK reported. The suspect, Anton Malloth, is now 86 and was condemned to death by a Czech court in 1948. He managed to flee to Italy and acquired Italian, then German citizenship. Parkanova said the Austrian-born Malloth illegally obtained his German citizenship and that the German authorities are "willing to look into the matter." He added that Italian authorities have expressed a similar willingness. MS


Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told a congress of his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in Kosice on 25 April that Slovakia wants to join NATO but that membership in the alliance should be approved in a referendum after Bratislava receives an invitation to join. This is the first time that Meciar has mentioned a referendum on NATO membership. His coalition partner, the Slovak National Party, has recently launched a petition for Slovak neutrality. Meciar also criticized U.S. ambassador to Bratislava Ralph Johnson for treating Slovakia like "a banana republic." The criticism followed Johnson's attendance of an anti-government trade union rally. MS


Meciar went on to say that the recent letter by nine bishops criticizing his government cannot be considered to represent the views of the Catholic Church as a whole since it was endorsed neither by Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec nor by Archbishop Jan Sokol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 1998). He added that the bishops' appeal did "not create a positive atmosphere" for talks between the Slovak government and the Vatican, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. On 26 April, the HZDS congress re-elected Meciar party chairman. MS


Hungary will repay loans stemming from bonds issued by Hungary before World War II, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Repayments to some $4 million to bondholders will take place over the next 20-30 years. In an advertisement published last week in the "Financial Times," Hungary offered to redeem bonds worth some 69,000 British pounds. Holders of those bonds will receive a 2.75 percent annual interest rate and the bonds will be redeemed at 110 percent of their face value. Dollar-denominated bonds will be reimbursed until 2027 and sterling-denominated bonds until 2017. MSZ


Serbian paramilitary police and the Yugoslav army clashed at least three times with ethnic Albanian Kosovars in the Decan and Gjakova regions near the Albanian border between 23 and 27 April. The Kosovar news agency KIC says the Serbian forces used helicopter gunships and heavy weapons to attack villagers and killed at least 19. Serbian media report that the security forces routed several hundred armed guerrillas and weapons smugglers who had entered Yugoslavia from Albania. "The Times" wrote on 27 April that villagers in Koshara said that Yugoslav troops routed 200 "teenage gunrunners" on 23 April. The daily added that some Yugoslav troops, especially those from Montenegro, abandoned their uniforms or deliberately let young Kosovars escape the dragnet. PM


Kosovar media reported that Serbian forces on 25 April shelled a village in the Drenica area, where the crackdown began at the end of February. Serbian media stated that masked gunmen wounded a policeman in Kijeva on 25 April and injured two more in southwestern Kosova two days later. There is no independent confirmation available on most of the Serbian and Kosovar reports, which contradict one another on several key points. In Washington, a State Department spokesman said on 24 April that the U.S. is preparing to impose new sanctions on Belgrade unless Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic launches serious negotiations with the Kosovars about the province's future. PM


Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said on state-run television on 26 April that the Kosovars' armed resistance is an "act of self-defense in response to long-standing and pathological violence by the Serbian authorities.... Continuous Serbian violence has increased the indignation and hatred of the Albanians against the terrorist policies of Milosevic," he added. Kosova, the prime minister continued, "has become a priority for Albanian diplomacy... our police, army, secret services, in short, for us all.... We should work without becoming excessively nationalist..., but we should defend our national interests. We hope very much for active international support for Kosova, but we should remember that the [international Contact Group] is not united on the issue." PM


Albanian General Kudusi Lama told state-run television on 26 April that the border region with Yugoslavia remains quiet but tense. He added that large Yugoslav army formations are positioned only 200 meters from the Albanian frontier in some areas and the Albanian army is on a state of maximum alert. The previous day, the Albanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that recent "border incidents claimed by the Belgrade government are totally untrue.... There has been no traffic of arms or men from Albanian territory into Yugoslavia." Albanian media suggested that the Yugoslav authorities staged the alleged incidents of arms smuggling as part of an ongoing campaign aimed at intimidating Tirana. PM


Unnamed officials of the Albanian Secret Service (SHIK) told "Koha Jone" on 25 April that they ordered a group of some 1,000 immigrants from Kosova either to register as refugees or return to Kosova unarmed. They threatened to hand the refugees over to the federal Yugoslav authorities if the latter rejected those options. The officials added that the group arrived in the northern Albanian city of Tropoja last week and "requested arms [from local officials] to fight" against Serbian police forces in Kosova. SHIK estimates that by 26 April, some 80 percent of the members of the group had returned, "Koha Jone" reported. Only 22 refugees from Kosova are officially registered in Albania. Recently arrived refugees told "Koha Jone" that they saw Kosova Liberation Army fighters hiding in the Has mountains, but they gave no further details. FS


On 25 April, a spokesman for the opposition Belgrade Center for Free Elections and Democracy questioned the official figure of 73 percent turnout in the referendum two days earlier against foreign mediation in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 1998). The spokesman noted that ethnic Serbs make up only 63 percent of Serbia's population and that the leaders of most ethnic minority political organizations had called for a boycott of the vote, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. Meanwhile in Skopje, Macedonian Defense Minister Lazar Kitanovski and his Greek counterpart, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, agreed on unspecified joint military measures aimed at promoting regional stability should the Kosova crisis intensify. PM


Bosnian Serb and Muslim crowds blocked the road linking Muslim-held Tuzla with Serb-controlled Doboj on 27 April. The previous day, a grenade attack wounded at least five Serbs in the inter- entity border region through which the road passes. Following the incident, Serbs stoned Muslims, injuring three. Elsewhere, some 200 Bosnian Serb refugees arrived in Banja Luka from Croatian-held Drvar, where the Serbs recently returned to their homes. Well-organized Croatian mobs have been intimidating the Serbs since their return and recently burned some Serbian homes. Meanwhile in the Derventa area on 25 April, Bosnian Serb crowds blocked the road to busses carrying Croatian refugees to a Mass near their former homes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 1998). PM


The Ljubljana regional court gave a one-month suspended sentence to Bostjan Celec on 24 April. The court ruled that Celec had damaged the reputation and integrity of a Maribor politician by suggesting in an article last year that the politician was responsible for his wife's death and for forcing his son out of the house. PM


Rexhep Meidani on 25 April approved the final members of the new cabinet proposed by Prime Minister Fatos Nano earlier this month. Meidani had delayed approving Defense Minister Luan Hajdaraga and Culture Minister Edi Rama until the resignation of their predecessors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 1998). Meidani also appointed Sabit Brokaj, who was Hajdaraga's predecessor, as his own military adviser. In a statement explaining his resignation as defense minister, Brokaj accused Nano on 24 April of having "neglected the country's defense at a time when Serbian troops are getting close to the Albanian borders." Rama's predecessor, Socialist deputy Arta Dade, also criticized Nano and threatened to bring a no-confidence vote against the prime minister, "Koha Jone" reported. FS


President Emil Constantinescu said after a 25 April meeting of the Supreme National Defense Council that the recent "cigarette-smuggling affair" resulted from a "trap" set up by those "responsible for the struggle against corruption." Earlier this month, a Ukrainian-chartered Bulgarian air plane unloaded a large transport of smuggled cigarettes at Bucharest's military airport. Constantinescu said the trap was a result of "long investigations" by the Romanian Intelligence Service. He added that the Prosecutor-General's Office is now investigating several high-ranking officers, including a colonel of the Special Protection Guard. On 26 April, he commander of the military airport was detained for five days. MS


The Supreme National Defense Council on 25 April ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch investigations into Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the Greater Romania Party (PRM), and another 15 PRM deputies. At a press conference the previous day, Tudor announced that the deputies have sent several Euro-Atlantic organizations a memorandum claiming that Romania is led by "mafia-like organizations" and that the president and other officials are involved in the cigarette-smuggling affair and other organized criminal activities. Tudor claimed Constantinescu had received a $2 million bribe for his involvement in the cigarette-smuggling and other affairs and that the money is to be used to finance his presidential campaign in the year 2000. MS


Gheorghe Funar, the nationalist mayor of Cluj, on 25 April launched the Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (AUR). Some 600 delegates attended the Cluj congress of the new political formation, most of whose members left the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) after its leadership expelled Funar last year. Three deputies and one senator from the PUNR have joined the formation. PUNR leader Valeriu Tabara said he will contest in court Funar's right to use that name. In 1990, the PUNR joined an electoral alliance with the Republican Party, which was called the AUR. MS


For the third day in a row, protesters on 24 April blocked the main road to the border town of Vidin to protest President Petar Stoyanov's decree giving the small northern town of Pelovo the new name of Iskar. Stoyanov has refused to reconsider that decision, noting that Pelovo was named after the local communist Pelo Pelov, who is known to have been associated with the political purges that followed the communist takeover. Stoyanov said towns and villages in Bulgaria must no longer carry the names of "people responsible for the division of the nation," RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The opposition Socialist Party organized the protest in Vidin. The ruling Union of Democratic Forces (ODS) has also proposed changing the name of Dimitrovgrad, which is named after communist leader Georgi Dimitrov. MS


Some 11,000 people in Sofia alone have recently left the opposition Socialist Party, party leader Nikola Koichev told journalists on 24 April. Koichev said the Socialist Party branch in the capital now has 39,000 members. He attributed its dwindling membership to "lack of motivation" and "the easy way the party gave up power" in 1997, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. According to figures released by the party, the Socialists have lost some 42,000 members nationwide since 1994, although they remain the largest party in Bulgaria. The ODS last month announced it has set a target of 80,000 members. On 25 April, the Union of People Persecuted Under Communism announced that it plans to formally join the ODS. MS


by Floriana Fossato

Sergei Kirienko, President Boris Yeltsin's nominee for prime minister, was confirmed at the end of last week after being rejected twice earlier this month. As expected, deputies of the State Duma (lower house) decided to cast their ballots in private, using special ballots in an election- style polling booth. This slower method allowed Communist deputies to depart from the Party line against Kirienko, agreed by Party leaders, and to vote without being seeing.

Only members of Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction kept their word and refused--as a bloc--to vote. Most other factions were split.

Kirienko needed 226 votes to be approved by the 450-member Duma. With a total of 251 deputies backing Kirienko and 25 voting against, the outcome is seen as a clear victory for Yeltsin, who had refused to compromise with the Communist opposition and to offer another candidate. Having waited until the very last moment before acknowledging that Yeltsin would resolutely stick with Kirienko, Communist leaders seem to have lost their opportunity to take part in consultations with the Kremlin on the formation of the new government.

Even if the Duma had again rejected Kirienko, Yeltsin would have had the constitutional right to appoint the young technocrat as premier. He would also have had the right to dissolve the Duma and call early elections. That would effectively have paralyzed the adoption of much- needed economic legislation for most of 1998. By contrast, the more pragmatic Federation Council (the upper house), had urged the Duma to confirm Kirienko and avoid plunging Russia into new political and economic uncertainty. The leader of the Our Home is Russia faction, Aleksandr Shokhin, said after casting his ballot that he would meet with Kirienko the same day to discuss cabinet posts. Our Home is Russia is led by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who the day before the vote had said the movement's 67-member parliamentary faction would support Kirienko. Shokhin said that, in his opinion, "at least two representatives" of Our Home is Russia will join the government and that one would possibly even be a deputy prime minister.

Russian media noted before the vote that Shokhin, a former economics minister, was hoping to replace acting First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov in a new government. Most analysts agree that Nemtsov, who originally brought Kirienko to Moscow, is likely to retain a prominent post in the new government.

In recent weeks, "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" has led a strong campaign against Kirienko--apparently reflecting the view of Boris Berezovskii, the business magnates who controls the newspaper. Yeltsin is reported to have recently warned the magnate that he should limit his intrigues or leave the country. Berezovskii has denied those reports. However, Kremlin officials said in private conversations with RFE/RL correspondents that they believe unnamed "business interests" had influenced some deputies during the second round of vote, resulting in Kirienko's rejection.

Shortly before the third vote on Kirienko's nomination, "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" argued that the appointment of Kirienko might prove a "Pyrrhic victory" for Yeltsin if it prompted unnamed "oligarchs" to become the president's opponents. The newspaper also claimed that since Yeltsin sacked Chernomyrdin's government, Yeltsin has been unable to realize his goal of obtaining an "apolitical government of technocrats" that would better manage the economy.

On the same day as the third vote, Russian media controlled by business interests seen as close to Berezovskii ran reports about former Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais's possible appointment at Unified Energy Systems. First Radio Ekho Moskvy and then the commercial NTV television station quoted an unnamed source close to the presidential administration as saying that Yeltsin had assented to the appointment. Both the radio and the television are part of NTV Media Holding, a powerful media conglomerate controlled by Vladimir Gussinskii.

The presidential press service immediately "categorically denied" the rumor, and Chubais's spokesman Andrei Trapeznikov told RFE/RL that the reports were "political disinformation" designed to spoil the Duma vote and deter deputies from voting for Kirienko.

In contrast, media financed by Oneksimbank, seen as close to Chubais and the so-called "reformist camp," have advocated appointing Chubais to head the electricity- generating monopoly and putting Nemtsov in charge of supervising natural monopolies in the energy and transportation sectors.

Chubais's appointment, if confirmed by a meeting of the EES board of directors this month, would be welcomed by investors but would likely be bad news for some influential businessmen and politicians. Most observers agree it would keep Russia's second-largest company and most-traded stock in the hands of the reformist camp, thus giving the company the possibility to control one of the possible strategic sources of financing for the 2000 presidential election.

Communist leaders' attempt to try to negotiate Chubais's possible appointment as a main condition for backing Kirienko was most likely a tactical mistake-- because, in the president's eyes, it may have linked the opposition with the "oligarchs." As one unidentified Kremlin official said recently, "Yeltsin is more and more convinced that he himself is a young reformer. After sacking Chernomyrdin and saying he wanted young people in the government to increase the pace of reform, the president is trying to stick exactly to what he said."

Skeptics, however, are asking how long Yeltsin will continue supporting the young reformers. He has provided ample proof in the past that his decisions can be most unpredictable. Also, Yeltsin's support will certainly not make it easier for Kirienko to work with a Duma that voted for him above all to maintain its own existence. The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent.